Dead & Company perform at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, on July 8, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
When illegitimate rumors circulated in the spring that Dead & Company would be hanging it up, Bobby Weir himself took to social media to dispel the fictitious storyline.
“News to me …,” he Tweeted in response to Rolling Stone’s incorrect April report on the modernized, legacy edition of the Grateful Dead, the band the now-grey but steadfast Weir helped steer for 30 years before it disbanded in 1995 following the death of Jerry Garcia.
In the wake of the cancellation of Dead & Company’s scheduled show in Saratoga Springs recently, buzz about a possible no-go in Northern Virginia seemed valid, as the father of star band member John Mayer had been hospitalized late in the week in an apparent medical emergency.
But, alas, Mayer’s father’s condition improved and the show would go on, as they say. And, upon announcing lot and show times on social media in the afternoon on July 8, Jiffy Lube Live was transformed a short while later into the larger-than-life celebration that follows this band wherever it goes in the same trademark fashion as the Grateful Dead.
Mayer and Weir, who hit it off after a chance run-in on a late-night talk show, form a world-renown tandem of guitar slingers to behold in their own right, and this band has been filling massive venues since it kicked off touring back in 2015. Such was the case last Friday night, as the enormous Jiffy Lube Live saw its pavilion packed and the lawn was filling up too as the set got under way.
The Dead was a crew that unquestionably impacted the way people consume music and shaped the business of it, and this iteration has its own tremendous influence, not just by way of grandiose, mind-blowing stage presentation, but additionally through its massive network and the words it chooses to share with them.
The night out in Bristow spoke to the stamina and perseverance of Dead & Company — Mayer in particular given his father’s troubling situation — and a willingness to make a statement on the matter of affairs in the United States, which took a bizarre turn in recent weeks in the wake of numerous questionable Supreme Court rulings.
Dead & Company took the stage at Jiffy Lube Live with a powerful declaration and a theme that would run throughout two rewarding sets — more than three hours of music — kicking off with “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” and projected were images of abortion and reproductive rights protestors. Flashed up on the massive digital screen a short time later was a logo that would show itself time and time again: a graphic depicting the expression “Save Our Rights” utilizing a beautiful, classic Dead rose.
An audacious longtime cosmic blues favorite, “New Speedway Boogie” had the thousands of fans who’d battled traffic to get into the place cranking at the hips and bending at the knees early in the set before an even bluesier take on “It Hurts Me Too” presented a band that looked like it hadn’t missed a beat in emerging from the pre-show uncertainty in pristine playing shape.
Stream Dead & Company’s latest release, Playing In The Sand, live at the Grand Moon Palace in Cancun, via Spotify:
Mayer, for all he’d experienced in the 24 to 48 hours leading up to the performance, was remarkable in bringing the audience to a howl and showing off climactic riffs in just the third song of the night before handing over lead vocals to the barefoot Weir — who at 74 still continues to impress off the stage with his workout routines — for a bouncing, intoxicating take on “Peggy-O.”
A quintessential Dead version of the folksong “Cold Rain and Snow” saw Mayer’s vocal range give the tune its loaded posture as he sliced his scales just within Bobby’s rhythm, and the two of them showed their powerful bond on the way to an elevated, stormy chorus.
Watch the Dead & Company preview stream from this year’s Jiffy Lube Live show via the Dead & Company YouTube channel:
Bass player and original Dead & Company member Oteil Burbridge, a DC native, has the mighty responsibility of essentially filling the role of the great Phil Lesh, and he does so masterfully, building on decades of experience touring with bands like The Allman Brothers and Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Oteil stepped to the mic for a soothing and elegant take on “China Doll,” which segued into “Throwing Stones,” another chance for the group to reinforce its message of support for women’s reproductive rights. And the words to this tune might be as relevant as when they were first shared about 40 years ago on the Dead’s album In The Dark:
“Commissars and pinstripe bosses roll the dice / Anyway they fall, guess who gets to pay the price? / Money green, or proletarian gray / Selling guns instead of food today / So the kids they dance and shake their bones / And the politicians throwing stones / Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down / Ashes, ashes, all fall down.”
An undeniably brazen and rustically funky “Don’t Ease Me In” was made that much more lavish of a set closer by Burbridge’s thick bass directives as well as organ pumping from the keyboard fortress on the left side being operated by Jeff Chimenti, another Dead & Company original members who’s played with Wolf Bros, RatDog, and Les Claypool, among others.
Of course, just over Bobby’s shoulder was drummer and percussionist Mickey Hart, who joined the Grateful Dead back in 1967 and, after a three-year hiatus, was with the band from 1974 all the way until the end. At 78 years old, Hart’s still dexterous, well timed and a crowd favorite for his outgoing and upbeat spirit.
Though original Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann — the other half of “the rhythm devils” — began sitting out shows a few dates into the current tour, the prolific group is benefitting from the talents of Jay Lane, a respected and connected stick pounder who’s played with Weir in the past as a member of RatDog and other well-known acts, including Primus.
Even through staff changes, this band already showed this summer it was determined to press onward regardless of what the speculation might be. And with a second set that saw only a single break in the music, Dead & Company reminded that they are indeed a model for live music presentation today and carrying on a tradition that means the world to so many.
Following a pristine, heavenly edition of the favorite “Sugaree,” the band would move seamlessly from “Playing in the Band” into the next eight songs, which would include a wild version of “Drums>Space,” before a celebratory, grooving “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” that so marvelously crept right into a “Playing in The Band Reprise.”
Stream Dead & Company’s 2019 live album from the Chase Center in San Francisco via Spotify:
While Mayer’s voice and guitar are arguably in their prime, Weir, who’s been playing the guitar for more than 60 years, should be applauded not only for bringing the band together, but also for his own incisiveness and polished execution, as his every note was resolute and his voice was resounding, hearty and dignified in offering spectacular versions of numerous Dead classics.
The marathon concluded with the luscious, longing and illusory “Stella Blue,” with Weir perhaps at his most mesmerizing. It transitioned carefully into what would become an amplified version of “Turn On Your Love Light,” yet another showcase of Weir’s still enthralling pitch sewn within an all-time party jam to close out the set.
And with an encore selection of “Black Muddy River,” Mayer had the pleasure of bidding farewell to the large, enthusiastic audience at Jiffy Lube Live, a night that almost wasn’t to be.
But, thanks to the turn in the elder Mayer’s health, one of the most professional and entertaining music entities of all time got to show last weekend that it is just, delivering a gratifying, lively experience in the DMV for anyone lucky enough to be there.
Man Smart, Woman Smarter
New Speedway Boogie
It Hurts Me Too
Cold Rain & Snow
Don’t Ease Me In
Playing in The Band>
Uncle John’s Band>
Lady with a Fan>
Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad>
Playing in The Band Reprise>
Turn On Your Love Light
Black Muddy River
Here are a few images of Dead & Company, taken from the back of the house, performing the night of July 8, 2022 at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia. All images copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.